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Getting grant money

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The photo above shows a bunch of our GCSE students undertaking their Controlled Assessment fieldwork at Hengistbury Head in Dorset.  This opportunity was possible through a Frederick Soddy grant through the Geographical Association.  In the current funding climate, I think that it’s essential to seek, apply for and get external funding.  There are a couple of reasons for this: it makes learning better and it gives a little independence to the department.  This financial year we have been successful in securing nearly £20k of external funding.  This figure is closer to £30k since I joined the department in January 2008.  This post aims to set out our approach to securing funding as many colleagues often ask what’s our secret.

Before going into any detail, some principles:

  • Any funding opportunity is always linked to development in pedagogy across our curriculum.  In the event of pilot projects, we aim to expand them within the academic year.  We are not about gimmicks or one off activities.
  • Funding should be linked to a CPD opportunity for the team.  There should be the chance to get out of the comfort zone, take part in some action research or lead a project.
  • It’s always worth putting a grant application in.  The worst that can happen is getting a no.

Example of funding and the associated projects, in the last couple of years include:

  • Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Innovative Geography Teaching Grants
    • We have secured a number of these that have supported out work in developing international school links and developing student voice,
  • Geographical Association Frederick Soddy Award.
    • This award allowed our Year 10 geographers to access a fieldwork location that was otherwise inaccessible due to cost.
  • 21st Century Learning Alliance Fellowship.
    • This award allowed us to develop students as decision makers during the ill-fated BSF adventure.
  • Ernest Cook Trust Grant
    • This grant is going to provide bursaries to young people attending a residential weekend focused on conservation.  It will also support live blogging from the field through the use of iPads.
  • Creative Partnerships Legacy Project.
    • Developing the Mobile @ Priory co-constructed policy and associated support materials.  Allowed us to carry out the infamous chalk graffiti exercise.
  • Specialist Schools and Academies Trust Innovation Grant.
    • Will help support out geocaching project linked to the Olympic games.

The important thing to note is that although these are all ‘stand alone’ projects they link to and stretch existing practice. It also helps to have an open mind!

How do we go about it?

First, find the right grant.

The main activity is to spend an hour or more using a site like Grants for Schools.  I use the free trial.  There is a lot of content on there that just isn’t appropriate. However, it’s usually possible to identify at least 5-10 potential grant giving bodies.  The main thing is to have a good idea of what you want to do before looking for funding.  Doing so makes it a much easier process.  There are also great links through Twitter. It’s an important point to note that many grants, especially the smaller ones, won’t support you in buying stuff. They want to see development of teaching.

Second, write the bid.

We don’t make up bid applications for the sake of it.  We will have a project, probably have undertaken a trial with a class or two, and then identified what we need to take the project forward.  This is very important as we have an obligation to our students to make learning better. We are also accountable for the money and we strongly believe that we should deliver on our promises. The bid writing is often the tricky part, but our main tip is to read the application criteria; the aims of the grant giving body and the conditions carefully.  For example, one organisation only wanted to support work in conservation and the development of traditional skills.  As our Eco Challenge residential already does this the grant was appropriate to what we aimed to do.

I should add, make sure that you have the backing of your team.  I am very lucky as I have an excellent team of teachers around me who are willing to lead on curriculum projects. This develops them, and spreads the load.

Finally, be prepared for rejections.  We probably have a 50% success rate each year, so have a back up plan.

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